Daniel House caught up with Vikings undrafted tight end A.C. Leonard and learned more about his journey to the NFL. One thing is certain, Leonard is ready to take care of business in the NFL.
Updated: June 29th, 2014 3:48pm
By: Daniel House
A.C. Leonard has a chip on his shoulder as he enters the NFL. Leonard, an undrafted rookie tight end out of Tennessee State, has bundles of potential just waiting to be groomed. He posted the fastest tight end 40-yard-dash time (4.50) at the scouting combine in Indianapolis and was widely considered one of the top-five tight ends in the NFL Draft. He hauled in five touchdown receptions last season and amassed over 1,200 yards in his career at Tennessee State.
"It feels great [to be a Minnesota Viking], it's like a dream come true, it is a great opportunity for me," Leonard explained.
A.C. spent one season with the Florida Gators, before deciding to transfer to Tennessee State, where he played for two seasons with the Tigers. Leonard prepared extremely hard for the NFL Draft, working tirelessly to improve his game and take it to the next level.
"All of things I have been doing throughout high school college and just working out and getting better at something everyday. Then work on my technique as far as my 40 and all different types of drills," said Leonard.
As the draft began, Leonard sat through the first two days, hoping his name would eventually be called before the draft ended. His name was never called, but his phone rang immediately following the NFL Draft, as the Vikings wanted to give him a shot.
"I didn't, actually [receive much interest from the Vikings]. My agent told me three days before the draft I would be a Viking. I thought she was just talking. When it happened, I called her and it was just crazy."
He is grateful the Vikings gave him a chance and the phone call he received from the team is one he will never forget.
"It was great [getting the phone call]. I don't think it really hit me until I got in Minnesota. When I got off the plane to get ready for work. It was great. I've been working my whole life, just waiting and paying attention and it finally came true," described Leonard.
He says going undrafted provides a sense of motivation, but he understands he still has the opportunity to take his talents to the NFL and make his dream a really.
"It does [provide motivation]. I felt like I should have been drafted. Everything happens for a reason. I'm going to continue to work to show people I should have been drafted," stated Leonard.
Leonard knows he can bring several athletic attributes to the table with the Vikings and he is excited to showcase those talents in training camp.
"My speed and my route running [are my best skills]. Film helps out a lot. I can look at film from practices to see how I run routes and fix them to get more separation. Just doing a lot of speed work, a lot of quick feet, a lot of cones and ladders, a lot of drills and just running routes. Every time I work out, I end working on the whole route tree. I always do it so it can become second nature," explained Leonard.
Leonard is an extremely hard worker and will do anything necessary to help the Minnesota Vikings win football games.
"I'll do whatever it takes [to make the roster]. Whatever they need me to do, I'm going to give it my all. I'm going to come to practice ready to work everyday and I'm going to do whatever it takes to make the team and stay in Minnesota for awhile," said Leonard.
The Vikings are in desperate need of a tight end to emerge behind Kyle Rudolph in 2014. Leonard is ready to embrace this role and is looking forward to learning from one of the best tight ends in the league.
"I'm excited. I watched Kyle over the years at Notre Dame and with the Vikings. He is a great player and he's a great person. We talk and he gives me tips on how to be a professional and how to work. It is great working with him and getting to know him on and off-the-field," Leonard acknowledged.
Tight ends are heavily used in Norv Turner's offensive scheme and Leonard looks forward to seeing plenty of balls in 2014. He even believes he could line up on the outside like the Saints utilize Jimmy Graham in their offense.
"Yeah I do [can line up outside]. I did it a lot in high school and college and I'm going to try to continue to do it at this level and use what god has given me and take advantage of it," Leonard answered.
Leonard is ready to see extended passes in camp, but he knows in order to be awarded opportunities, he needs to take advantage of every rep, while having the playbook down to a science.
"Yeah, I am [ready for passes in camp]. I know the more I can do and the more I can show them I know the playbook and I know my plays, the more opportunities I will get. I'm just going to prepare myself right now and stay in my playbook and come in the best shape I have been in and good things will happen," explained Leonard.
Leonard knows one of his biggest transitions will be to shift from a more passing-catching tight end to having the ability to run block and learn the progressions of the NFL.
"I'm ready [to run block]. I'm ready to put the pads on. I feel blocking is a 'want to.' Nobody really likes to block, but if you put effort into it, you can get the job done. I'm getting bigger and stronger, so I feel like I'm ready to take on that challenge," Leonard proclaimed.
A.C. has followed Norv Turner throughout his stops in the NFL and he loves what he did with Antonio Gates in San Diego. He has high aspirations and feels as if Coach Turner can make him a better player.
"[Norv Turner] is a great offensive coordinator. He's not too serious, but he comes to work every day. He is going to coach you up and help you get better every day. I always watched him over the years and seen how he used Antonio Gates. It is great to have the opportunity to play for such a great coach like that,"said Leonard.
The intensity at practice was high and the level of education was through the roof at mini-camp, but Leonard is used to all of the up-tempo and high paced practices.
"Everybody is flying around and everyone is trying to learn the new offenses and all the new coaching stuff. Everybody is just working hard. It isn't really new. I did it at Florida and TSU. I knew it was going to be fast and up-tempo and I'm ready for it," Leonard explained.
Early in mini-camp, his position group and the entire Vikings roster had a heavy focus on fundamentals, while improving the small skills, that can make a huge difference in the entire scope of the project.
"Yeah, it was [fundamentally focused]. Just critiquing the little things, like blocking stuff and improving my routes. Just the little things that are going to help me be great one day," commented Leonard.
A.C. Leonard got his first taste of the state of Minnesota during OTA's and mini-camp and he was impressed with the Mall of America and its surroundings. The weather will be an adjustment, but he will make the best of it.
"I like it. Everybody is pretty nice. The weather is bi-polar, but other than that, it is a nice city. I had a chance to go to the Mall of America and it was great. It was my first time seeing it; it's nice. I'm looking forward to being there," Leonard stated.
Not only is Leonard ready to take his talents to the field, but he is excited to meet the fans during the Vikings tenure in Mankato, MN for training camp.
"I'm very excited [to meet the fans]. All the players are asking me if I'm ready for camp, they said it is going to be another level. I'm excited to see what it is about. I'm excited to be around the fans and work," explained Leonard.
He has developed a strong relationship with Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon and they have had the chance to explore the rookie life today.
"I spend a lot of time with him, I chill with Jerick McKinnon," Leonard chuckled.
A.C. got the chance to catch passes from newly drafted quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and he was extremely impressed with the Vikings first-round pick.
"I already knew Teddy was a baller. I had a chance to play against him in high school in 7-on-7 and had the chance to watch him play. We were in the same class and now having the opportunity to play with him is great. He is going to be a great quarterback and I'm happy to be here to grow with him," declared Leonard.
Leonard had his first chance to work with head coach Mike Zimmer and he is looking forward to building a legacy with his head coach.
"I love his [Zimmer's] coaching. He is not like a lot of coaches. He is not going to yell and call you this and that. As long as you get your job done and you are giving maximum effort every day, he is going to have nothing to say to you. He is a great coach and you can talk to him about anything," Leonard explained.
One thing is certain, Leonard has always been the underdog and he is ready to prove those who question him wrong.
"I'm ready, I'm so ready. Words can't even even explain it. I'm ready for training camp, I'm ready for the preseason start, I'm ready for the season to start. I have a chip on my shoulder and I've got some business to take care of," said Leonard.
Leonard has high aspirations for his career in the NFL and doesn't just want to be great, but he wants to be one of the best tight ends of all-time.
"I want to be a hall-of-famer. When people look at my name, I want hall-of-famer to be at the end of it," Leonard concluded.